Stress, TMJ Disorder, and Poor Sleep: End the Cycle

Stress and TMJ disorder

Breaking The Cycle and Transforming Your Daily Life

Even on their own, issues like a bad night’s sleep, stress, and TMJ disorder are never fun to deal with, but did you know that they can often be connected? These issues can start a vicious cycle, feeding into each other and making each other worse. Thankfully, though, there’s a lot of truth to the old saying that knowledge is power! Understanding the cycle between stress, TMJ disorder, and poor sleep is often the key to helping you escape it!

Once you know how the cycle works, it’s much easier to begin working on improving different aspects of each issue, breaking the cycle, and breathing new life into you. It can absolutely transform your daily life! We know just how important it is for you to feel relaxed, well-rested, and pain-free, so we’ve put together a guide on how this connection could affect you and what you can do about it.

Stress is often a trigger for bruxism and restless sleep.

When we’re stressed, our muscles tense up, ready to take action to protect ourselves. It’s part of our fight or flight response, and stress kicks this response into motion even when there’s no source of genuine danger. This affects your jaw, too, triggering bruxism; tensing your jaw causes you to clench and sometimes grind your teeth. Stress and anxiety can also trigger habits such as nail biting or chewing on objects like pencils, which is another form of bruxism. You can even clench or grind your teeth while you’re asleep without  realizing it! 

These forms of bruxism, whether chewing on objects or clenching in your sleep, are parafunctional habits, which simply refers to any habit that includes using a part of the body in a way that is outside of its intended use. Clenching, grinding teeth, and chewing on objects are all ways some people process stress in the body.  

Stress and bruxism can lead to poor-quality sleep.

Stress and sleep bruxism can both impact sleep in different ways. Anxious thoughts are infamous for their ability to keep your mind racing even when you’re exhausted, preventing you from falling asleep, but that’s not the only way it can impact your sleep. Stress releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that disrupt the chemicals needed to help you get to sleep. These same hormones can also prevent you from reaching a deeper sleep, often causing you to sleep restlessly or wake up still feeling tired.

Sleep bruxism generally happens during lighter periods of sleep and takes place during micro-arousals, which are short periods during sleep when your brain becomes more active to increase awareness of your surroundings. This doesn’t wake you up, but it helps your body regulate your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing.

Experts believe that it’s a natural way to look out for danger while you’re asleep, meaning that your brain wakes you up when your fight or flight response is activated. A normal number of micro-arousals doesn’t impact your quality of sleep because it’s natural, but when you have sleep bruxism, you have a significantly greater number of them, which can impact how well rested you feel when you wake up.

Additionally, clenching or grinding your teeth at night can make quite a bit of noise, enough to potentially wake yourself—or your partner—up. It can also cause pain or discomfort that could rouse you from sleep as well.

Bruxism can aggravate the jaw.

Whether you do it when you’re awake or asleep, repeated teeth clenching and grinding puts much more stress on the joints and muscles of your jaw for an extended time. The pressure and friction this creates risks injuring your teeth or wearing them down over time, but it’s also bad for your jaws. Exerting this constant pressure keeps your jaws tense and prevents them from resting or relaxing.

Your jaws need to rest just as much as any other part of your body. The constant tension and pressure from bruxism can aggravate your jaw and lead to soreness or pain. Some studies even suggest that bruxism can lead to TMJ disorder, finding that up to 20% of people with bruxism have TMJ disorder symptoms.

Great sleep is incredibly important for your overall health.

Sleep is when your body rests and repairs itself, so it’s incredibly important for your overall health. Even though it’s also resting, your body is still hard at work while you sleep. It’s during sleep that your brain stores new information and gets rid of waste. Your body uses this time to repair cells and build new proteins, including several that are essential to your immune function, while releasing hormones into your body. Your nerves also use this time to communicate with each other and reorganize. And that’s just a few of the things your body is up to while you’re sleeping!

In short, sleep keeps your body and mind feeling good and functioning at their best. It’s why experts recommend that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, stress, TMJ disorder, or bruxism can prevent falling and staying asleep, which can lead to a snowball effect that impacts the health of your entire body.

These issues can affect your entire body

Each of these issues—stress, lack of sleep, and TMJ disorder—can impact both your mental and physical health. When it comes to your mental health, stress, lack of sleep, and pain from TMJ disorder can cause symptoms like moodiness, worsening depression or anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms like this can impact your relationships and increase your chances of getting injured in a car accident or during an accident at work.

People often don’t realize just how big of an impact each of these issues can have on your overall health. Stress often causes symptoms like fatigue, frequent headaches, stomach issues, muscle tension and soreness, changes in appetite, and more. Plus, since sleep is so important for your health, not getting enough of it, or not managing to reach the deeper stages of sleep that your body needs, causes symptoms like extreme fatigue, a weakened immune system, hormone imbalances, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

TMJ disorder also has a surprisingly wide range of symptoms that aren’t limited to just your jaw. In addition to jaw pain, it can cause frequent headaches, earaches, tinnitus, dizziness, lockjaw, muscle soreness or tightness in your neck, shoulders, and back, and more.

Unfortunately, these issues often feed off each other. When you don’t sleep well, your body goes into a stress response, which can cause or worsen bruxism. Bruxism can then kickstart TMJ disorder, causing chronic pain and migraines that can increase your stress levels and make it even harder to sleep, both because of the pain and stress related to the pain. It’s not a fun cycle to get caught in, but the good news is that it’s not impossible to escape!

Easing stress can help relieve these issues

Since stress is often a catalyst for both sleep issues and TMJ disorder, minimizing your stress levels can help relieve both issues. There are many ways you can go about relieving stress, and though it may take a little trial and error to find the best methods for you, the results are more than worth it! Practicing mindfulness techniques and instituting a regular exercise routine—especially yoga, which combines elements of both—can do a lot to help reduce stress. Mindfulness techniques are designed to be calming, and exercising releases endorphins, boosting your mood and helping you feel more relaxed. It’s also incredibly important to make sure you’re not stretching yourself too thin.

Don’t be afraid to say no to some activities or events to avoid overscheduling yourself, and make sure to spend time doing something you enjoy for at least fifteen to thirty minutes every day. Spend time painting, reading, or hanging out with your friends—whatever it is that brings you joy and helps you feel relaxed. Additionally, eating a healthy, balanced diet and cutting out things like alcohol and tobacco while limiting caffeine can also be beneficial.

Your dentist can help bring you TMJ disorder relief  

If you’re experiencing bruxism or symptoms of TMJ disorder, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with Dr. Desai. Although stress and TMJ disorder often go hand-in-hand, TMJ disorder can have many different causes. Dr. Desai can help you discover the cause of your TMJ disorder and design a specific treatment plan just for you. This may involve treating both your stress and TMJ disorder with stress management techniques, but it can also involve treatments that are designed more specifically to bring relief to your TMJ disorder symptoms.

When you go to Dr. Desai for TMJ disorder treatment, you can be sure that you’ll receive a treatment that is designed to meet your unique needs, helping you gain real, lasting relief. Learning about the vicious cycle between stress, TMJ disorder, and trouble sleeping doesn’t have to be disheartening or intimidating. After all, this cycle can also work in your favor! By improving various aspects of these issues, such as lowering your stress levels, you can also gain improvement in the other areas. If you’d like to learn more about stress and TMJ disorder or bruxism, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Desai at any time.